One of the most discussed wellness topics in 2019 was fat – specifically the consumption of fat. Foods have a tendency to fall in and out of public favor, and fat is no exception. Not too long ago it was recommended that we should consume margarine over butter!
Going into the new decade, we want to end the misconceptions and fear that linger with the word “fat” for good! After decades of health misconceptions and skewed guidelines on fat, people struggle to understand what it is and how to welcome it into everyday life. To help, here is our 360 perspective on fat – what it is and how it affects your well-being – so you can make informed, healthy choices for you and your family.
Fat, once a forbidden word, is a vital nutrient. There was a time when we were urged to banish fat from our diets in an effort to decrease caloric intake and be “heart healthy.” Unfortunately, this led to an industry of low-fat food where the fat was replaced with processed sugar. Health experts quickly realized that low fat, processed foods were not sustainable for health. Fat is a necessary to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is also essential for blood-clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.
Not all fat is created equal. In fact, there are four different types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, trans fat and polyunsaturated. The unsaturated fats are considered “the good fat,” industrial made trans fat is considered “the bad fat,” and saturated fats land somewhere in the middle.
Interestingly, saturated fats have been vilified for the last 40 years, but under these dietary guidelines to restrict saturated fats, chronic illness has risen rather than declined. Weston A Price Foundation sums it up:
“In the decades following the release of the dietary guidelines, Americans followed suit, reducing their intake of animal fats and largely replacing them with grains, sugars and industrially processed vegetable oils. Yet, despite adherence to these supposedly ‘healthy’ guidelines, U.S. public health declined.”
There are many conflicting viewpoints on saturated fats. Choose to consume them sparingly and from these recommended healthy choices:
- Coconut oil
- MCT oil
- Raw butter
For those who eat meat: Processed meats that contain saturated fats like bacon, hot dogs, sausages, and lunch meats may contain class 1 carcinogens. Our recommendation is to eat less processed food, and more whole foods. There are many farmers who can provide you with healthy alternatives to the processed food industry.
Monounsaturated fats protect the heart and support insulin sensitivity, fat storage, weight loss, and healthy energy levels. Healthy choices include:
- Macadamia nuts
- Olives and olive oil
Less healthy choices:
- Canola oil (unless it’s organic, canola oil is made from GMOs and is highly processed and refined).
- Peanuts – they tend to be high in molds, which may be allergenic to many people. Peanuts may also cause inflammation, which can create a situation where it is difficult to obtain the benefits of monounsaturated fat.
Polyunsaturated fats include Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats. Omega 3’s reduce inflammation, support healthy hormone levels and cell membranes. Omega 6 fatty acids are important to support healthy brain and muscle functions but, on the downside, they promote inflammation in the body. There must be a healthy balance between these two omegas.
We only need a small amount of omega 6 fatty acids in our diet, yet the standard American diet is filled with them (e.g., most baked goods, packaged foods like cookies and crackers, chips, french fries, breads, and snacks). Corn, soybean, safflower, cottonseed, grapeseed, and sunflower oils are all high in omega 6’s and are not stable. This means any food that is fried, baked, or microwaved using these oils will oxidize and potentially create an inflammatory response in the body.
What to do?
Eat more of the omega 3 fats: flax, clean salmon. and less of the omega 6 fats. We recommend you stay away from soy and corn oil as 95% of soy and corn oil is derived from GMO seeds and in numerous studies have shown to increase body fat and inflammation. They are also sometimes made using dangerous chemical solvents.
According to Harvard’s The Nutrition Source:
“[Trans fat] is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid. When vegetable oil is heated in the presence of hydrogen and a heavy-metal catalyst such as palladium, hydrogen atoms are added to the carbon chain. This turns oils into solids. It also makes healthy vegetable oils more like not-so-healthy saturated fats. On food label ingredient lists, this manufactured substance is typically listed as ‘partially hydrogenated oil.’”
The American Heart Association endorsed eating more corn and soy oil. Corn and soy oils are high in omega 6, which most Americans already get enough of in their diets. Too much omega 6 leads to an inflammatory response in the body. This kind of dietary inflammation is the root cause of most chronic diseases in the US including, heart disease, the number one killer of Americans. To dig a little deeper on the studies they used for their conclusions, check out this article by Gary Taubes, an investigative science and health journalist.
Quite simply, the best way to promote health is to incorporate clean, minimally processed fats (preferably organic).
- Cold pressed flax oil (never heated)
- Coconut oil (can safely heat)
- MCT oil
- Olive oil
- Raw butter (grass fed)
- Ghee better for high heat cooking
- Raw cacao butter
- Grass fed pastured meats, dairy and eggs
- Raw nuts
- Sustainably sourced salmon, sardines, krill oil
When consuming fat in your diet, one thing to be mindful of is the higher energy content of fat. Each gram of fat supplies the body with about 9 calories, more than twice that supplied by proteins or carbohydrates. Because fats are such an efficient form of energy, the body stores any excess energy as fat.
Any energy not used by your body’s cells (basal metabolic rate) or used to create energy for physical functions is converted to stored energy (adipose tissue).
Body fat is a part of the physical substances and structures of the body. By nature, body fat is warming and stabilizing; however, an excess of fat can be obstructive and weigh you down in life.
Body fat is used through a process known to sports physiologists as thermogenesis. Thermogenesis involves a natural intensification of metabolism resulting in a conversion of fat into heat (energy).
To produce healthy body fat, adequate sources must be consumed through the diet. Consumption alone does not guarantee that healthy fat will be formed. The body must properly digest the food so that its qualities can be used to build body fat. If the digestive system is not healthy, rather than forming healthy adipose tissue, these same foods will create space for toxins in the body and mind.
The proper quantity of fat varies with each individual. A healthy balance leads to a body that acts like a well oiled machine and a heart that is capable of love and devotion. In order to keep it healthy, it is important to be aware of your optimal balance and then to take the appropriate actions to restore that balance.
Moving into the new decade, remember to mind both your macronutrients and your micronutrients, remain intentional with your food sources and choices, and be aware of your body’s needs.